Can Hearing One Dirty Joke Ruin a Kid?

Hi Readers! Here’s a strange case. An eighth grade science teacher in Kansas has been fired for creating a “sexually hostile environment.”

On the face of it, that sounds like it makes sense. Who wants a teacher harassing the kids – or even other teachers? But here’s what the guy was ostensibly fired for:

“I drew a map out of proportion,” the teacher, Ryan Haraughty, told a Fox4 reporter in Kansas City.  Florida was bigger than it should have been. “The kids jump all over stuff like that. ‘Oh Mr. Haraughty, Florida is all wrong!’ Okay, whatever. Not thinking, I said, ‘Florida got excited.’ And right after that, I’m thinking – you know. But I decided I’m not going to dwell on it.”

Who would? It’s dumb joke, and maybe “inappropriate” (the word of choice for almost everything these days). But who cares?

Well, one parent did. And now the beloved science teacher has been kicked out — a teacher that hundreds of people showed up the other night to support.

Forget about whether the principal should have sided with the parent. For all we know, it all goes back to internal politics, and rumor has it that the politics at that school make Capitol Hill look like Thanksgiving at the Rockwell’s. What’s disturbing is the idea that parents think they can control every single thing their children see, hear or experience.

Somehow a conviction has grown up among a lot of parents that our kids should have a childhood unmarred by a single upset. This belief kicks in even before birth, when pregnant moms make sure they eat precisely the foods recommended by the experts. No cupcakes for them! (No Kahlua, either.) Baby needs a perfect diet.

The minute the baby pops out, parents are encouraged to turn the nursery into a spa, with baby wipe warmers, and mobiles that play womb sounds.

Next come the classes, toys and videos, all purchased in the hopes of conferring every enrichment actual riches can buy. And then comes school, and parental pushiness.

It’s not that I don’t think parents should be involved in their children’s education. I do. I am! But what we’re forgetting is that part of education is dealing with life. And life is not always perfect.

If a teacher makes a comment that is a little shocking, would you really prefer a kid who can’t deal? Or a kid who laughs, shrugs, or maybe even feels a frisson of discomfort – but moves on?

Ironically, it’s quite possible that this child did move on. But having told mom or dad about the incident, the parent did not. That’s because some parents are not only convinced that they can control their child’s every experience, they are also convinced that if they don’t control it all – that if their kid gets a B when he should have gotten a B+, say, or gets picked last for tag, or sees a movie that’s too grown-up, or hears a joke that’s shocking, or eventually doesn’t get into the “right” college – all bets are off. The kid is hurt, perhaps irreparably.

I still remember my friend’s 80-year-old grandmother telling me about the time she was a school girl and some guy called her and her sister over to his car, and showed them the real world version of the science teacher’s drawing of Florida. “We still giggle about that,” she said.

Giggle? She didn’t consider the experience traumatizing. It didn’t become the defining moment of her life. It was a weird and obviously memorable event. But it did not throw her off forever.

We forget how resilient kids are. In fact, we tend to emphasize the potentially terrible consequences of every untoward event (this is a country addicted to TV talk shows, after all). Fearing the worst, we attempt to engineer every moment, forgetting that one of the things that makes kids resilient is dealing with some difficulties.

One R-rated joke by a great science teacher is not going to ruin any kid’s life. Growing up with a parent who thinks it will – that’s another story.

Growing up without a great science teacher — that’s another story, too.

— Lenore

103 Responses

  1. Inappropriate from a teacher, but not a big deal. By the time kids have reached 8th grade, they’ve heard much, much raunchier jokes than that. The kid probably told his parents because he thought it was funny, not because he was traumatized.

  2. They’ve probably all heard more suggestive stuff on daytime TV.

    Poor teacher. They may never be able to teach again. Now that *is* life-changing.

  3. That wasn’t even an R rated joke! The vast majority of 8th grade kids are already very exposed (ooh, is that too risque a word?) to far more explicit/crude humor on TV and in movies, not to mention all the ED pharmaceuticals and “male enhancement” advertisements that flood the airways at all hours of the day.

    Sure, the teacher shouldn’t make jokes like that. But what an overreaction and distraction from the real business of school – educating our children.

    In fact, I’m just relieved that in this day and age of geographically illiterate 8th grade kids (and even too many adults), that the kids recognized that Florida was drawn out of proportion.

  4. Frankly, it strikes me not so much as the parents wanting to control everything a child hears as much as it is an example of the continuing infantilization (is that a word) of our children. I suspect those parents are simply unable to consider that their 8th grade darling (how old is that? 13-14ish?) has some concept of sex, anatomy, the opposite gender, etc. I bet they’re still thinking of the child as a baby or toddler and are shocked — SHOCKED!! — that someone might make an off color joke in front of the fragile little thing.

  5. Absolutely not something that he should have lost his position over. A stern look from the principal should have covered that blunder.

    8th grade? Please. If they watched Transformers the movie, they’ve seen/heard exponentially more vulgarity than that.

  6. I bet the student thought their teacher was cool, saying Florida is “excited” sounds like 8th grade humor, and told their parents. Then the parents got bent out of shape. Do the parents have any idea what is on TV, in the movies, let alone what in on the internet?

    This reminds me of when we all saw Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl. Some people got so worked up about it that their reaction caused more harm/confusion for kids than the .5 second exposure to a breast ever could have done.

  7. As a teacher, I can say that spending so much time in the classroom makes a momentary slip just so easy. That said, I teach college, so no one should care so much.

    But really, unless this was typical (which it apparently is not), no one should even raise an eyebrow… the kids hear worse in the cafeteria (and surely in the locker room).

  8. I used to lead student tours at a museum that had a sculpture of a Native American woman who wasn’t wearing a top (because she wouldn’t have for much of the year). Third graders walked right by it, at most noticing a statue. You couldn’t get fourth-grade groups past it without a bullhorn and a catapult. Kids’ minds go to the gutter really early–it’s a natural part of development, and it happens long before eighth grade.

    The joke was inappropriate. The appropriate response was for the principal to say, “Be a little more careful.” Firing? Even more inappropriate, because it’s disproportionate.

    Of course, the reaction to most things will also vary from child to child. One grandmother may remember giggling over a flasher, but my cousin still remembers how upset she was by a similar incident (in which she was in no danger).

    Still, the job of parents is to teach children how to respond to a variety of circumstances. What have these children been taught?

  9. I’m the parent of a middle schooler. This is tame beside what they talk about amongst themselves, and as BB says, they get more suggestive stuff than this from any 15 minutes of TV.

    Parents like this are just jerks. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with them where I teach.

  10. Also of note is that the kids wouldn’t’ve gotten the joke if they didn’t already know exactly what he was talking about. This is the sort of thing that could have shown up in a Bugs Bunny cartoon: parents would be amused but it would go right over the heads of little kids.

  11. Fortunately, in the US there is a high level of litigiousness. Let’s hope that the teacher does well in his wrongfull dismissal case. You could have made that joke on 1950s puritanical TV and gotten away with it.

  12. My high school band director made crude jokes quite a bit. He also would yell and scream, I mean, loudly lecture quite often- especially during football season. I also remember some slip ups from my middle school science and social studies teachers- swearing, etc.

    Anyway, all three were some of the best teachers I’ve had. Yes- the crudeness isn’t necessarily what made them good, but as with normal people you have to take the good with the bad. I’d much rather have a teacher that occasionally slips up but engages and educates me than have a teacher that does none of the above.

    And I’m sure that principle, if he has ever worked in a classroom for any period of time, has also slipped up. He just wasn’t caught, as most teachers aren’t.

  13. I mean, princiPAL.

  14. Inappropriate? Definitely. Deserving of some mild form of reprimand (a talking-to from the principal, maybe even as far as a day’s suspension)? I think so. Should he be fired over it? Absolutely not.

    This is all assuming this was a one-time slip. If it’s part of an ongoing pattern of inappropriate comments, then more investigation and possibly discipline would be warranted.

  15. A science teacher walks to the front of a classroom …

    Although inappropriate, I’ve heard worse from the kids themselves.
    Lewis Black observed in The History Channel’s “History Of The Joke” that what one person finds funny another person may not but both are right because humor is subjective.

  16. I read a book a few years ago (and I wish I could recall the title) about two girls whose teacher exposed his bare bottom to them. One of the girls laughed and moved on, the other had parents who decided her life was now forever changed — ruined — and what do you know, it was.

    These teacup-raising parents are doing far more damage to their children than any number of off-color jokes (and that one was as mild as they come.) Sadly the whole incident was reported on a parenting blog I follow (an “alternative, accepting” blog at that) and the santimommies were out in force, agreeing that the joke was “inappropriate” and the teacher should have been severely punished for exposing the little darling to his first sexual thought.

  17. When I was 10 or 11 I was with my father and a few of his friends at a ski lodge having lunch (I had been skiing with them all morning) My father told a few jokes, one of which was:

    Thor [A Norse God] went up to Odin [the head god] and said “I want to visit Earth for a bit.” Odin replied “Ok you can go for three days but you can’t tell anyone who you are.”
    So Thor went to earth and went straight to a brothel. He went in paid some money and went up to a room. About an hour later he came down and paid again saying he wanted someone better. He went upstairs where he was told but was back down in hour and complained saying he had wanted THE BEST. The owner told him that his best girl was at the very top of the brothel and that she was amazing in bed but she had a lisp and most customers did like talking to her. Thor said he did not care about talking and went up.
    Thor and the woman at the top were at it all night and all through the next day. After screwing her for about 20 hours straight they were both lying there panting and Thor thought to himself “I don’t care if has only been two out of the tree days, I should tell this girl who I am.” So Thor said “You should know, I am Thor.” and she replied “You’re thor? I’m tho thore I can’t pith thraight!!!”

    The point here is that I was only 10 or 11 when listening to that joke. I didn’t really get it at the time, but as I got older I laughed about it, retold it, made others laugh with it and always thought my dad was the coolest guy because he liked a good dirty joke.

    More damaging to children is the notion that somehow as we age we will lose our sense of humor.

  18. Assuming the bit about this being a one off incident is true, the fact the parents complained is the saddest bit. Seems dumb. As Lenore says, kids are resiliant. And if the parents think their kid shouldn’t have to listen to that kind of talk they should be teaching their child to stand up against it in an appropriate manner – otherwise how does the parent think their kid is going to cope when the jokes are from a co-worker or a boss? Swooping in for trivial things does your kids no favors.

    Even had the school board decided no action needed to be taken, it would still be sad that some kid’s parent thinks this is worth taking up time and resources over like this.

  19. The idea of perfection in American soceity has gotten so pervasive. Somehow we feel that if we control enough factors our lives will be perfect. The problem is that perfection breeds complancency. Growth, change, revolution, invention they all come from an imperfect world. The world is a playground not a glass speciman jar. Parents should be fighting for an imperfect world for their children to prepare them for the real one – the one with accidents, crime, fear and hate. How will our children cope when all they have seen is a childhood filled with perfection?

  20. Holy overreaction, Batman!

    Of course, this is coming from a parent who is currently burning a CD for my friend’s kid’s first birthday entitled “The Best Inappropriate Showtunes for Children” featuring songs from “Avenue Q”, “Hair,” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”

  21. I had a teacher tell a dirty joke in class when I was in high school, and it ruined me for life. That’s right–I’m now a high school teacher.

  22. One more reason not to teach… very tame compared to what the kids say to each other, not to mention what they see on the Internet. (Sure, your school’s computer system has filters, but every 8th grader in the US knows about sneakystudent.com.)

    A talented, funny teacher (old hippie, to put it bluntly) at my high school in the mid-70s got fired for telling her class this joke: A teacher decides she is fed up with the kids and the administrator, so she quits her job and goes to work in a brothel. From the first day, she is the most popular girl in the house. This confuses the madam, because the ex-teacher is a bit on the dowdy side, so she sneaks up to the door of the teacher’s room just after a customer goes in and she hears the new girl say “Now, we’re going to do this over and over and over until we get it right…..”

    36 hours and an emergency meeting of the school board later, my sociology teacher was out of a job.

  23. The term “Inappropriate” is meaningless. It’s as concrete as the term “Beautiful”. What one person sees as pretty, another may say is confusing, ugly, etc.

    I say that by 8th grade everyone in the room would understand the comment. Big deal. If we want teachers to interact with kids realistically, based on who they really are and what they really know, then the comment was actually appropriate.

    When we pretend 8th graders aren’t old enough to understand normal bodily functions, we deceive ourselves and contribute to a dangerous ignorance in our kids. Why dangerous? Ask the thousands of kids in our schools having kids. The adults in their lives may not be having reality-based discussions with them about sex and reproduction. Ya think?

    My 5th grader would get this joke, chuckle, and move on. The parent who blows this into such a big deal is harming the psyche of their own child. That’s what I consider far more inappropriate.

  24. These parents are completely deluded if they think their 8th grader hasn’t heard much more and far worse. I taught 8th grade for a bit, and this is NOTHING compared to how they would talk to each other, or even the emails they would send to each other. Yes, it was inappropriate, but wow, talk about an overreaction…

  25. It was inappropriate. But to fire the teacher over it? Even more so.

    Not much else to say.

  26. This incident reminds me of an art history professor I had a few years back in community college. Once he used a very academic euphemism for a certain part of a male Greek statue, and most of my younger classmates looked at him like “Huh?” The professor got flustered at how ignorant his class was when it came to college level vocabulary, so he said a few obscenities and slang terms that meant the same thing. My classmates burst out laughing and finally understood him.

  27. As an editor, former Army medic, etc., I think I am pretty sensitive to off-color stuff. I had to read the offending remark twice before catching on. Pretty innocuous, I’d say. Firing? Please say they are kidding.
    When I was a Cadette Girl Scout leader, my “veteran” junior high-age Scouts always wanted me to tell newbies “my “dirty joke”. After protesting that Scout leaders don’t tell dirty jokes, I’d relent:
    The white horse fell in the mud….

  28. When I heard about this horrifying breach of decency, I was so shocked that my monocle fell out into my snifter of brandy.

  29. What a tempest in a teapot (with an “excited” spout, no doubt!).

    What I find aggravating in article after article about parents having issues with teachers, is that often, as mentioned earlier, the complaint is that the kid’s grade is not high enough, or that the teacher is too “tough” (I had a favorite sociology teacher removed from a school in part because he insisted on papers being turned in on time, barring severe illness or a death in the family – wouldn’t accept late work otherwise.)

    As for my daughter, barring deliberate unkindness or unfairness, I figure she needs to figure out how to get along with all kinds of people who will have different sorts of expectations and styles, so I support her to manage and negotiate – on her own whenever possible – any problems she is having with a teacher.

    (According to my daughter, her current teacher has “laser eyes” and sometimes has crabby moods, and sometimes assigns detention. I interpret these complaints as follows: Her teacher is paying attention to what the children are doing, is human, and is teaching the children that there are consequences to misbehavior or failing to meet minimum expectations. – yeah! an introduction to the real world! )

    If she learned nothing else in school beyond how to get along with difficult people, then it would be time well spent – as it is, fortunately, she is learning plenty of other things, and finding it easier to do so without the distraction of constantly being ticked off at this or the other teacher.

    As for dirty jokes – she’s in 4th grade, and extremely unlikely to hear them from her teacher, (however, she’s had quite an education from her classmates.) Fortunately, she has been educated regarding male and female body parts, how they work and what they do, so while enjoying the gross humor characteristic for her age group, she is neither traumatized nor overstimulated.

  30. Wow. That’s it?

    I don’t even think it’s all that inappropriate. These are 8th graders, not 2nd graders. If they are shocked by this, just wait until they start studying Shakespeare or Latin poets in high school.

  31. I think it’s inappropriate because even though we know most 8th graders are already thinking this way, suggestive humor shouldn’t be getting modeled by adults as appropriate for public settings. (Yes, I know it happens on TV etc., but I still say it SHOULDN’T.)

    But firing is way over the top, unless it because a pattern.

  32. “because a pattern?” Sheesh. “Becomes” is what I meant.

  33. The teacher slipped. That needs to be noted. Do the parents ever slip and say something they probably shouldn’t? Of course they do. Or they’re some sort of super-human. One mistakeas simple and innocuous as that should not be grounds for firing. Do the parents think their kid doesn’t know what it means to “get excited”. Because if they haven’t talked about it yet, perhaps it’s time.

  34. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…I’d love to hear what these same parents say in front of thier kids at home.

  35. I still say the issue is not so much “do they already know this stuff” or “can they handle it,” but is it appropriate for teachers to model suggestiveness in a classroom setting? Looking at myself, if a teacher spoke to me like that in a classroom setting, even though 1) yeah, I do actually already know about that stuff and 2) it wouldn’t cause me to become warped or have the vapors — I still think it would be out of place and inappropriate. So I think there’s a middle ground here between dismissing it entirely (“Hey, it’s not news to the kids and it won’t ruin them”) and firing the guy. Having the principal remind him that it’s not appropriate for education is sufficient, unless and until there are more similar incidents. You shouldn’t have to make the case that something is either shocking or damaging in order to decide it doesn’t belong in a particular setting.

  36. ” You shouldn’t have to make the case that something is either shocking or damaging in order to decide it doesn’t belong in a particular setting.”

    While I agree with this I don’t think that means it is a good idea for a parent to make a formal complaint, especially if it’s a one off.

  37. That’s so weird, considering the garbage that most children are allowed to watch on TV these days. I don’t get cable anymore, but at work I’ll catch some shows in the patients’ rooms. Good God, they advertise stuff for erectile dysfunction, female lubrication insufficiency, female erectile dysfunction, all during the daytime hours! It’s a different world.

    I think the joke was a good one for that age level, ha ha, they love that type of humor. Then he dropped the subject and didn’t go further.

  38. What a flap over nothing. The parents have set a poorer example in persecuting this teacher over a minor slip. I hope the community rallies around this teacher and he is hired back.

  39. OK, no sex ed for these kids. In biology you talk about erections. I even saw a film showing ejaculation, but a quick boner joke about Florida, oh no we can’t have that!
    To be clear I was neither titilated nor traumatized by the film. I was educated.

  40. He shouldn’t have been fired, but definitely reprimanded. Teachers are supposed to be moral examples to kids. I’m a former teacher and that was something talked about and included in the courses. (AKA you knew what you were signing up for by accepting this job.) (Which is why you see teachers being fired for posting erotic pictures of themselves online.) It’s not that the kids are going to be damaged from hearing it. It’s just that a better example as a role model should have been followed. Todays standards have dropped significantly from what they used to be and people are ruder and cruder, but it still should be kept out of the classroom. Children are there to get an education – and not on the crude side of life. But it definitely was not something to be fired for unless it was a repeat offense.

  41. Teachers are supposed to be role models, eh? Who gets to decide exactly what type of role model they want? How about a gay teacher who’s open about his relationship with his partner? What if some parents object to that? They don’t want THAT type of role model! What about a teacher who wears a cross? Uh oh, the atheist parents will be up in arms!!!

  42. While I don’t think it’s appropriate for a teacher in a position of authority to make sexually suggestive jokes (despite the fact that eighth graders hear far worse elsewhere; it’s not appropriate FROM the teacher IN the classroom), obviously firing is an enormous overreaction. An apology to the bluthering parent and an “it won’t happen again” should be enough. That it is NOT enough, that an ACTUAL firing is involved (was he actually fired?) leads me to suspect this remark was merely the tip of an iceberg, becuase I really don’t think it’s that easy to get school teachers fired (unless he is in a private school; it’s very difficult to get public school teachers fired after three years on the job). I fit is that easy to get teachers filed for slips, and yet almost impossible to get them fired for being bad teachers…we’re in trouble.

  43. “What about a teacher who wears a cross? Uh oh, the atheist parents will be up in arms!!!”

    Well, they ARE up in arms. Teachers and their aides have been suspended before for refusing to stop wearing crosses. That’s ridiculous too. But wearing a cross is hardly anything like making a crude joke. One is a behavior in a classroom. The other is a symbol of one’s identy. He certainly shouldn’t be fired over a single, mild crude joke, but it’s not wrong to expect teachers to refrain from making such jokes in the classroom and to warn them off the behavior.

  44. I agree with Jennifer, the comment above this one. It WAS innapropriate and I’ll admit that I would be bothered by a teacher saying this in a class my child was attending. I’d probably say something to the teacher if I were a parent in that situation. I certainly don’t think he should have been fired though.

    Teachers are important role models and should be held to the highest standards concerning conduct in the classroom. To lose one’s job over a slip up such as this is too harsh, though, unless there were previous incidents that weighed upon the decision to let him go this time. If it was a one time slip of the tongue, the punishment did not fit the “crime”, at least in my opinion.

  45. well because he said it to children, he must be a sex offender, dontchaknow. thus, fired!

    puritans. sigh.

  46. I just googled that story and one of the first links I came across said that the comment was the tip of the iceburg and that there had been many other incidences. I don’t know if they were similiar or not, but it makes sense that this was not an isolated incidence from a wonderful teacher.

  47. Ooops. I forgot to include the link for those interested.

    http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2009/11/13/kansas-teacher-fired-over-florida-joke/

  48. In the 7th grade, our health teacher told us what a 69 was. Granted, it was sex ed, but I didn’t think we really needed to know that. He said he’d rather us hear it from him – ok, weird, but whatever. Anyway, my point is that we all survived.

  49. When we pretend 8th graders aren’t old enough to understand normal bodily functions, we deceive ourselves and contribute to a dangerous ignorance in our kids. Why dangerous? Ask the thousands of kids in our schools having kids. The adults in their lives may not be having reality-based discussions with them about sex and reproduction. Ya think?</i.

    Actually, I think that's why it's inappropriate. If he'd said it in front of a six year old they would have forgotten instantly and not understood it. The eighth graders *do* understand it, and teachers (with the possible exception of those teaching sex ed) shouldn't be encouraging them to waste more time making dirty jokes than they already do.

    But honestly, unless there's a lot more to this story than we're reading, it should have ended if not there, then with a note from the principal saying to knock it off.

  50. What is moral?

    What is high or low standards?

    It’s all a matter of opinion…

  51. Oh for chrissakes…

    When I taught my first year of 6th grade, I was having a conversation with my students about college degrees and what they’re called. We got to doctorates, and how a doctor of philosophy is a PhD, a doctor of juris is a JD…

    So what’s a vet called? asked one student

    “doctor of philosophy is a PhD, doctor of Juris is a JD, so a doctor vet is a VD, right?” another student said earnestly, looking at me.

    I choke back my laugh and managed to get out “No, I don’t think so…”

    For the record it’s a DVM….you bet your ass I googled it before some kid went home and said they learned about VD in school…

  52. Really? The man was fired? Sheesh! I had teachers and coaches growing up that would fire off something slightly crude every once in awhile. I remember them, not the bland teachers that never said anything funny! I also was the team manager for my High School baseball team (took stats). Those guys let me have it! Not one game or practice went by where there was something sexually suggestive said to me. Did I go crying home to mama and dada? Nope. Gave as good as I got. It was so much fun. Of course I joke now that I could have sued them all for sexual harrasment, but then again, they could have sued me back!😉

    The thing about helicopter parents is they think all kids are fragile and stupid. They’re not, but some are sure trying to make them that way.

  53. My kids went to that school and had that teacher. The teacher is willing to waive his right to keep his personnel file and has told everyone what the other incidents were that he was written up for. What this whole thing is about is that the principal has a vendetta against the teacher. The principal has not been liked by teachers at other schools, either. A petition was signed by 150+ teachers at the previous school complaining about her. Mr. Haraughty other offenses are:

    1. Tell the kids that a gymnosperm is a “naked seed” – look it up, that is the literal definition.

    2. When giving a lesson on buoyancy, he mentioned that women have more fat and float better than men, and he said that breasts are made up of fat and glandular tissue.

    3. A student wrote on a paper “testical prendical” – not sure of the context of that but assume it was a paper Mr. Haraughty graded. Mr. Haraughty wrote “that’s funny!” beside it.

    4. A student asked why we can’t walk with the penguins and Mr. Haraughty said “Don’t you know about frostbite? Things will fall off!” Didn’t name any parts.

    There is a claim of insubordination (to the principal) but from what I have heard he stood up to the principal when she was flat out wrong and people have commended him for standing up to her.

    None of these things or the Florida comment are grounds for his dismissal, in my opinion. Yes, insubordination is not a good thing – I agree. But sometimes when you take all the crap you can from someone who is a b*tch, you just can’t take anymore. The teachers don’t like this woman (Susie Ostmeyer) and the kids don’t like her. She has a bad track record at schools she has been assigned to before. The parents here would like to see the science teacher reinstated and the principal fired. The school board fired the wrong person.

  54. You know, the more I think about it….it seems that if he was saying this to 8th grade boys (I have an 8th grade girl), I’m finding that I;m feeling it;s *finally* an adult who acknowledges the truth of boys this age getting sudden erections at the slightest thing. A wink and nudge at, yeah that happens to us all, and I wasyour age once, and I know you understand my joke. It reads, to me, more of that age-acknowledgment, than anything truly salacious.

  55. As a parent of a middle school student and a teacher, I think firing the guy for a comment was completely over the top. The kid who got the teacher fired is going to have a rude awakening when they get into the real world and realize that not everything is going to be censored to fit into their bubbled little world.

    Also, I wonder if the kid has ever watched a Disney movie…

  56. Principal: Mr. Excited, you know, you shouldn’t have said that. Little Joey went home and told his parents-who-need-to-get-laid and they had a fit. I told them I’d take care of it. Just – don’t make jokes like that in the future.

    Mr. Excited: Gotcha. I don’t know why parents are so sensitive these days – I mean, Little Miss I-Can’t-Keep-My-Pants-On is already walking around 7 months pregnant – do they think it’s a watermelon in there?

    Principal: I don’t know, Mr. Excited. I just don’t know.

  57. [i]it’s very difficult to get public school teachers fired after three years on the job[/i]
    It depends on the school district and the teachers contract, if an individual teacher is union or not (and what union), etc. Insubordination, which includes almost anything you can think of that involves free will on the teachers part, can get a tenured teacher fired on the spot. Three years isn’t some magic number- each district has different rules and policies. In some areas the union members are quick to vote for a strike, in others the union members would agree to almost anything to avoid picketing.

  58. I can’t believe he got fired.
    As a high school student, I can say that I’ve heard several “inappropriate” things like dirty jokes and swear words from teachers…If anything it relieves a little tension from the worries of AP Chemistry and Calculus!
    Guaranteed that kid went home laughing and told his parents with a smile on his face…Why do parents get so worked up? as IF they’ve never let a swear word drop when they step in a pile of dog vomit on the carpey…oh PLEASE…What has this world come to??

  59. Oh, and what was my slip of the tongue my first year teaching? I was the activities director, and my ASB students were arguing over DJ prices for the upcoming dance. The disagreement was getting heated, so I quieted them all down and said, “OK guys, first thing–a good BJ is going to be expensive…” and stopped abruptly as I realized what I’d said. I tried to backtrack and repeat myself, but my throat had already closed up in embarrassment, so I only managed to squeak. It didn’t matter–the kids had already taken what I said and run with it. Whoops. :-p

  60. Laura – I was wondering when someone was going to mention the fact that 8th grade boys happen to be the prime targets for a boner now and then. Since they are experiencing it why are they too young to hear about it in a casual and not really offensive manner. He wasn’t gross or graphic about it, just an off the cuff remark.

    Certainly not a firing offense, and I really think not much more than watch your analogies a bit more teach, rebuke from the principal should have done it.

  61. Thanks for the info., Susan. It sounds like an internal power struggle…if parents and teachers both don’t like the principal, you would think she would be gone within a year or two…it doesn’t sound like parents and teachers have much influence on the school board?

  62. I think he has until tomorrow to file an appeal. He is hoping that the school board will reverse the decision before then so it doesn’t go to arbitration. There have been hundreds of parents showing up at the school board meeting demanding that he be reinstated, and also parents writing school board members to ask for his reinstatement. If the school board doesn’t listen to the parents, I know a lot of us are going to be voting out the incumbents come election time.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=17917712688#/group.php?v=wall&gid=17917712688

  63. Off topic, but…

    @ Karen waaaay upthread…PLEASE tell me where to find this CD, The Best Inappropriate Showtunes for Children?!?!? Sounds like a must-have at my house, and I’ve Googled that title to no avail! 🙂

  64. Wow, I’m having an almost identical reaction to this situation as I have to other items reported on this blog. My honest response? No, I too don’t think this guy should lose his job over such a bonehead (oops) comment, but to be frank he doesn’t sound like a teacher I’d love to have, or love my kids to have.

    As a matter of fact, from the comments above, he reminds me of a number of teachers I had in middle and high school. Kind of dorky, trying too hard to be funny/cool/with it/whatever, or maybe just crude, and sometimes, downright sexist. And I didn’t like it. Not that I wasn’t crude sometimes, or that my friends weren’t–of course, we were. But I didn’t like it from an adult, esp an adult who had some power over me, who was male. It was, as someone else said, kind of creepy, and as a very young woman living in–putting it diplomatically–‘unenlightened’ times re the sexes, depressing and uncomfortable.

    There just are a number of teachers like this. Actually quite a few. The things they could say, or imply, and get away with was more outlandish in the past, but even today they are out there. My youngest left high school a mere 2-3 years ago, and I remember hearing stories from him that bugged me.

    We all want teachers who are fascinating, brilliant, motivating, and inspiring, and–most of us, at least–not crude, rude, or dirty.

    Ain’t the case, though, right?

  65. […] Can Hearing One Dirty Joke Ruin a Kid? Hi Readers! Here’s a strange case. An eighth grade science teacher in Kansas has been fired for creating a […] […]

  66. I consider myself a free-range parent in the physical sense–my kids have a lot of freedom to roam, run around the neighborhood, they have responsibilities at home, they make their own phone calls and set up their own plans, I’m glad when strangers make small talk with them in the store, we have no safety equipment outside car seat and bike helmets, and they are turning into capable young people.

    But free-ranging doesn’t mean and shouldn’t mean that we intentionally allow our kids to be exposed to anything at all. One commenter was right: the teacher knew what he was signing up for when teaching 8th graders. That comment was terribly inappropriate. I can’t help thinking there’s more to the story; it’s pretty hard to fire a teacher and maybe there’s other aspects that haven’t been made public.

    It’s a cop-out to say that kids say worse things to each other and hear worse things on TV (well, for kids who get to watch that kind of thing on TV–not mine). You could say that kids left to their own devices would eat junk food instead of vegetables, but that doesn’t exempt parents from giving them healthy food. It is our responsibility as parents to provide them with a healthy environment (notice I say “healthy,” not “safe.”)

    The idea that it is puritanical to be shocked that a teacher would say such a thing… just another way that incivility, crassness and vulgarity are creeping into our lives. Heaven forbid that someone’s freedom to be vulgar is inhibited by standards of decency that go back generations.

    My own 8th grade science teacher was one of the foulest people I ever met. He said the most crude, vulgar, sexist and inappropriate things in class–things I would be embarrassed to repeat here. He was also the middle school track coach and he used to point out the running girls to the boys, making even more crude comments. Lots of kids (especially the nastier boys) did think he was hilarious and cool. And some of us laughed nervously so that we didn’t appear prudish. But I writhed inside. The school district tried to fire this guy for years, and couldn’t because of the union lawyer at his beck and call.

    Am I scarred for life?… of course not. But as an experience, being in that class every day was harder to deal with than when I was 8 years old and a middle-aged man exposed himself to me in a bathroom. Because one was clearly inappropriate and people did something about it, and the other was just as inappropriate but it kept going on and on.

  67. Completely overreacted. I heard this story before on the radio and was shocked by how many people agreed to his firing.

    He made a slightly sexual comment. It was not nasty, it was not dirty, it was plainly just funny…
    If we continue to teach our kids that everything sexual is unmentionable or dirty, we will force them into a dilemma on whether to model their sex life after what can be found on the Internet (the good or the bad) or any other model whether we like it or not. I would rather have them taught by parents and teachers. That being aroused is a matter of life and that you can be humorous about sex and not everything needs to be so black and white. If we model a healthy attitude towards sex, they can learn. If we freak out by every little exposure, I am sure we will raise some paranoid kids and teenagers…

    Everything nowadays is targeted around how not to offend anyone.
    Why would I be offended if somebody wished me Merry Christmas ?
    Why would I be offended if somebody put their kids in Halloween costumes?
    If I tell a Christian that I am an atheist they get offended. So do Jews.
    Talking about religious beliefs and political views is the most interesting topic there is. How can I learn, if I cannot address these issues openly with all the questions I might have?

    People need to test their tolerance levels and acceptance levels. If they constantly feel offended by other people’s remarks and behavior, it might be time to either reevaluate their own standards or to move somewhere else. And I am not talking about tolerating harrassment or abuse. I would not either and report anyone that crosses the line. However, some people push the line way to far out to dimensions were the end result is a totalitarian censorship. Where you cannot say anything without having a lawyer present. That cannot be it. Can it?

    I had a friend whose name was unpronouncable to most English speaking people. She used to say “It is easy to remember. It rhymes with a male body part.” Everyone laughed. If I imagine she could have been fired over that these days.. ???

    As I always say… Too far East is West.

  68. Oh, puh-leez!!! My eighth grade Health teacher, during one of our sex ed (GASP!!!) classes, described the difference between how men and women get “excited” by saying that for men it’s like turning on a light switch, while for women it’s like heating up an iron. She also explained what happens to a certain part of the male anatomy when it gets chilly…by telling a story about her husband and too much time spent outside shoveling snow. It had apparently been a big hit with classes in many previous years, so she considered it practically part of the curriculum.

    That same year (1989 or 1990) there were at least two girls in my grade who got pregnant, and one that I know of in sixth grade. You know what? I’m fairly certain that hearing some teacher’s very slightly inappropriate joke had nothing to do with any of them…they (and their boyfriends, obviously,) managed to figure it out all by themselves.

  69. your comment: Somehow a conviction has grown up among a lot of parents that our kids should have a childhood unmarred by a single upset. ….
    also includes THE GOVERNMENT. The Government – and its Agents (CPS / DHS workers) feel that a child should never be in a home that is not immaculate – should never hear shouting or should never – “be marred by a single upset” …

    or else

    The government Agents – will come and take your child(ren) away – to “safety” …. I won’t even go into the condition of some of these “safe solutions” … aka foster family homes …

    What a disaster for American youth….

  70. Kids can learn a lot more from a teacher who admits “I said something I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry” than from “You make one mistake and your life is ruined.” The administrators dropped the ball here.

  71. In sex ed class, they can talk about masturbation, gay relations, oral and anal sex, but an off-color joke in another class is inappropriate? Give me a break! Some of the kids in the class are already having sex. Most have already heard much more, and seen much more.

  72. That’s just insane. The comment is not that dirty.

  73. I had to do a double take at the grade. I’m sorry, but I think the majority of eighth graders have probably seen, heard, and done worse than that joke. And now this poor guys career is over and his life ruined, all for a slip of the tongue. Those parents should be ashamed of themselves.

  74. I told my 12 year old about this. His response?

    No effin way!

  75. Jen:
    “Kids can learn a lot more from a teacher who admits “I said something I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry” than from “You make one mistake and your life is ruined.” The administrators dropped the ball here.”

    That’s it. 100%.

    Perfect nutshell.

    YES.

  76. I remember in 8th grade, many, many years ago, the teacher was giving us hints on how to study for the Reading AP. He said that we needed to remember the articles in the names of books. One student said, “The Moby Dick.” My teach responded, “I’m not going to touch that.” Well, I’ll tell you, I laughed the entire period. I’m still chuckle today when I think about that.

    I was a born again Christian at that time. But, I was happy to have a human teacher.

  77. Another report about this incident said:

    “Several people say Haraughty’s termination was the direct result of a personality conflict with the principal at the school, Susie Ostmeyer. Ostmeyer did not attend Monday’s meeting.”

    I hope Susie Ostmeyer fully appreciates the public attention she will get from this incident. She was obviously courageous enough not to attend the Monday meeting where she could have faced the parents and students who wanted to keep Ryan Haraughty.

    Perhaps it would be fitting to mention again, where this took place:

    Mission Valley Middle School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas

  78. “Kids can learn a lot more from a teacher who admits “I said something I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry” than from “You make one mistake and your life is ruined.” The administrators dropped the ball here.”

    Perfect Jen. Just perfect.

    I for one, would have thought the joke hysterically awesome in middle school. I lived for teachers who didn’t act like robots.

  79. I don’t get it. I mean, I get the joke- it’s like pointing out that the mannequins in the mall always look like it’s way too cold in there. It’s a comment about a normal bodily function, one that people often feel embarrassed about (OK, not if you were on “Friends”), but it’s normal It happens to those kids.

    What I don’t get is parents being upset enough by it to get a teacher fired.

    I’d complain loud and long about a track coach who talked about the girls, making them feel uncomfortable andencouraging the guys to objectify them. I’d speak privately to a teacher who made jokes that demeaned either sex or any race or religion, etc. I don’t see that this was either of those things.

    Not saying that parents don’t have a right to speak up if they feel something was inappropriate, even if other people disagree with them; I’m just saying that this was a HUGE overreaction.

  80. Your friend’s 80-year-old grandmother reminds me of the three little old ladies who were sitting on a park bench when a man walked up and threw open his raincoat.

    Doris had a stroke.

    Marie had a stroke.

    Poor Elanor, with her bad shoulder, couldn’t reach.

  81. It wasn’t PARENTS, it was ONE parent who complained. Other parents have been showing up at board meetings protesting his firing. That’s the problem we have with this. One parent complains and the teacher is fired. I don’t know who that parent is; I wish I did. My kids had Mr. Haraughty for science and he’s a great teacher. It’s the PRINCIPAL who doesn’t like him and I wonder if the parent who complained is friends with the principal.

  82. Teacher’s do have a moral and social responsibility to be set good examples for children. Kids today are bombarded with sexually explicit content in magazines, books, billboards and media. However, the teacher said something stupid. He should be reprimanded, not fired.

    Raising kids today has got to be tough. That’s why I have a dog. And she’s going to be home-schooled!
    http://www.uglywomansguide.com/index.php/2009/11/whoever-said-its-a-dogs-life-didnt-live-teddys-life/

  83. Thank heavens I am a college instructor, not only did I talk about how to deal with jellyfish stings this morning (starting with how they dealt with it on Friends)… once, I mispoke about a jellyfish’s TESTICLES rather than TENTACLES.

    I rarely blush, but I blush just recalling that one. Eesh.

    I’d have been fired on the spot apparently.

  84. @Catherine–I do like some of your comments, and they are well said too.

    Again, just to clarify, given what the facts seem to be, firing this guy does sound extreme. But, it sounds like this debate is morphing into two separate issues. One is does it harm, or somehow impede, classroom instruction if teachers make blue or crude statements, or sexual innuendos?

    And, a very different question, assuming such statements don’t impede teaching, can hearing these types of statements in the classroom ‘harm’ young school kids?

    That issue is, I think now, more nuanced than it seemed. A number of us have posted comments that reflect back on teachers we actually had, and comments they made, and the discomfort those statements created. I may be wrong, but I think most of us who have done so are women, and the teachers were largely male.

    I believe that there is a gender issue muddied in all of this, and it has to do with–in this instance–young girls of 12-14 (junior high school age) being on the receiving end of sexual joking by older men, who happen to be their teachers.

    Hmmm….This is not a capital offense, but when my daughter was in that age group I paid attention, to the extent that I could, to the interaction that was going on between her and any older man she happened to be with (at parties, gatherings, school, coaches, volunteer work, etc.) I didn’t assume anything, just paid attention, which felt instinctual to me. If conversation (and certainly, conduct) strayed into an area that was–well, adult and male and perhaps too free and easy–I moved in. Sometimes all it took was a raised eyebrow, sometimes it took more.

    It goes without saying that there is a lot of energy generated between young girls/women and older men. Everyone knows this, and senses it, to one degree or another. My experience is that men who are secure with themselves learn how to enjoy the vitality and beauty of girls/young women while remaining ‘off limits’, controlled, or even a bit fatherly or avuncular (ha! haven’t gotten that word into a sentence in a long time).

    But lots of other men, obviously, don’t act like this and they can be a real pain, if not a danger, or a discouraging, dampening effect on young women. They can be found in any position, and, yes, plenty of them teach.

    This guy, who knows? Has he a history of making off-color comments in class? If yes, I say, find a better teacher. If no, give him a second chance to grow up a bit.

  85. I’m one of the parents fighting to get this amazing teacher back. It’s been 6 weeks, and we’re now on teacher #5. It’s awful. He’s one of this district’s top-notch teachers, and kids AND parents love him. We are sooooo disappointed with our administration during this process.

    There IS no better teacher — he’s funny, edgy, demanding, knows his curriculum from top to bottom, NEVER has a discipline problem because he’s the kind of teacher that kids love and respect, so they work even harder in his class; he is the kind of teacher we wish EVERYONE could have.

    The loss of this man in my daughter’s classroom is a travesty. He was ultimately fired for “insubordination” because he argued with the prinicipal who suggested, well, basically, that he was a pervert, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

    We’re looking for ways to send this further into the public’s attention, especially OUT of the Kansas City area….we’d welcome any suggestions!!!

  86. Steve –

    Thanks for pointing out this took place in Johnson County. I had wondered where in Kansas this travesty took place – know there’s lots of weirdos in Topeka and Wichita but Shawnee Mission…. now it all makes sense. I grew up in Bates Co. MO, a few miles east and about 60 miles south but spent a lot of time at my favorite aunt’s house on 83rd in Leawood. In my travels (I’ve been a Texan for a quarter century now) I’ve run into any number of people from this largely affluent, white, conservative county of Kansas City suburbs and in my experience adults who grew up in that extremely homogenized environment are invariably either very conservative corporate MBA types who had their sense of compassion and cultural sensitivity surgically removed at an early age, or else are tattooed, drug-enthused, no-visible-means-of-suport life-of-the-party types. No middle ground.

    Go Mizzou, whup Jayhawks,

    Jim

  87. Johnson County?

    Heh-heh. Missed that the first time I read the story. Thanks, Jim.

  88. I’m torn.

    On the one hand, as a 13-year-old girl I’d have been squicked out by hearing that comment from a male teacher.

    On the other hand, as a 13-year-old girl I did from time to time hear comments of a similar level of offensiveness (that level being, from my adult perspective, not very high at all) from a male teacher, and, well, those brief experiences didn’t significantly detract from the fact that overall, these were good teachers who did their job well.

    The one teacher I remember with real resentment is my Grade 10 PE teacher, who never made a sexually inappropriate comment but consistently showed and expressed contempt for anyone in his class who was (a) female and/or (b) not a gifted athlete. When we played basketball or floor hockey, girls and boys had to play separate games “because otherwise the girls might get hurt”. When we played ping-pong, groups were chastised for enjoying the game so much they failed to keep score. When we did “social dance”, he turned it into a competition. Not a single student from my Grade 10 PE class, female or male, ever took another PE class in high school. That’s the kind of teacher who doesn’t belong in the classroom — not the guy who says “Florida got excited.” (Actually I’m kind of surprised none of the boys in the class said it first. Does anyone else here remember how HILARIOUS the boys in their junior high science classes found the word “stopcock”?)

    On the *other* hand, yeah, teachers have a responsibility to model respectful, mature behaviour.

    On the other *other* hand, part of modelling respectful, mature behaviour is giving people an opportunity to apologize and make restitution, if appropriate, when they screw up. Jen above hits the nail on the head here.

    So, should he have said that? No. Should the principal have fired him? Absolutely not. There’s a HUGE difference between one (or even several) “Florida got excited”-type comments and a consistent pattern of sexually inappropriate behaviour.

  89. My middle school latin teacher was obscene and crude. He insulted me personally on occasion. I didn’t like him. He was an important role model that gave me balance as I searched for my own essence. What would I be like today if I had not had the opportunity to learn from him? Maybe I would have turned out just like him. I ran into him decades later–he was throwing pizza at a rowdy joint. I appreciate him. It never occurred to me that he should be fired for his behavior.

  90. wellcraftedtoo – I agree that there are men like this, and that some of them are teachers. And an intimidating environment at school is not something that pupils should just live through. Because it can have a devastating impact on their future.

    But I don’t agree that the solution to finding out that your daughter (or son) has been on the receiving end of such comments is to sweep in and save them. At 14 it’s time these kids started to learn how to handle themselves in these situations. Far better is to teach them how to stand up for themselves and let their teacher know they don’t appreciate it, and how to make sure they have the evidence they need should their initial efforts prove fruitless.

    I’m not saying parents should stay out of it if it gets beyond the kids abilities, but I don’t think the free-range issue here is about the school’s reaction. The free-range issue is – why did the parent make a complaint over a one off comment in the first place?

  91. The resulting action from a comment like that just seems to outrageous to be really true. Was this story vetted? I cannot believe that this is the whole thing.

  92. Why is it that the minority rules?

    I always thought that it was the majority that ruled.

    My mistake.

    If one person can claim their “rights” are offended, then it becomes impossible to allow everyone “rights” because anyone could be offended by different things.

  93. @Helen–I like the sound of that: letting the kids advocate for themselves.

    But, I think that if a kid, a 12-14, has the chops to take on a teacher for a off-color comment, she (or he) has the odds stacked against her, in terms of prevailing. And, realistically, I’ve watched lots of college students–obv much older than junior high–flounder at taking on ‘authority’.

    Where, oh, where did all those organizing skills go that many of us nurtured so carefully decades back?? Another topic; one I won’t start now!

    Also what I still don’t get is, was this just one comment, or a pattern? That seems really important in evaluating this.

  94. @Julie–Thanks for insider info; sounds like hysteria for sure. Why not take Helen’s suggestion and get the kids involved? Now doing that will provide them meaningful ‘lessons’ for sure!

  95. Wellcrafted – “And, realistically, I’ve watched lots of college students–obv much older than junior high–flounder at taking on ‘authority’.”

    Which is exactly why they need to start practicing now while their parents are around to help them if they flounder. Isn’t that one of the main points about free-ranging? It’s no good doing everything for your kids and then expecting them to be able to magically cope with everything when they hit 18.

  96. If that was his only off-color remark, I agree it was an overreaction to fire him.

    That said, I DO remember a couple of teachers in jr high who made frequent inappropriate references, and as an 8th grade girl, it was a rather hostile environment in that science or shop class.

    Both of the teachers I remember held a near-constant stream of off color chatter and jokes, which seemed designed to bond with the boys. It was really weird, and also* very* difficult to learn in either class, largely because the young boys saw an opening to be crude and ran with it. And I’m FAR from prissy.

    My kindergartner has heard worse. I don’t think he’s scarred for life, but I’d be bothered if he was exposed to blue language and off-color humor by a teacher in elementary or junior high. I wouldn’t call for a resignation or firing over one incident, but I’d definitely keep watch because I remember how disturbed I was by similar.

  97. @Karrie–agreed, my experience also. What is it about junior high that seems to make this kind of teacher-talk more likely?? Or, is that just my impression…?

  98. When I was in eighth grade, I took private music lessons. At one of them, my teacher told me the following joke:

    Two violinists are having an argument during an orchestra rehearsal. Things get rather heated, and one takes his bow and jams it up the other one’s butt. The violinist goes to the ER and hears some music as the doctor is pulling it out. Alarmed, he asks “Doctor, what’s that sound?!!!!??” The doctor replies, “Nothing to worry about. Just another asshole trying to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.”

    Not only was I not scarred for life, but I remember feeling very cool and mature afterwards. An adult had told me a joke with a dirty word in it, feeling that I could be cool about it and appreciate it. FWIW, I still think that joke is pretty hilarious, even 20 years later.

  99. @ wellcraftedtoo: I imagine they catch it from being around so many junior high kids.

    And if Library Diva enjoyed the Mendelssohn joke, she’d have LOVED a limerick I learned around that age, ending with the line, “If Stravinsky don’t deafen you, that’ll”

  100. […] Can Hearing One Dirty Joke Ruin a Kid? Hi Readers! Here’s a strange case. An eighth grade science teacher in Kansas has been fired for creating a […] […]

  101. @ralphin jersey–agree!

    @library deva–pretty good, might even pass that one along:)…

    but note that the joke is neither at the expense of women, nor a reference to male sexuality. that might make a difference to whomever is hearing it, eg a young girl.

    what i’m picking up within the many varied comments to this post is that a fair number of us were on the receiving end of either juvenile off color references to male sexuality (“look, forida got excited!”), or, worse, to deragatory, oh-so-funny references to female anatomy, sexuality, ect. (i, yes it’s true, was subjected to a science teacher inserting slides of naked women into a classroom slide show on geology.)

    and that this was from–yuk–teachers.

    end of the world stuff? no. crappy? yes.

    (pls excuse from all lower case typing–tired out from a nasty cold!)

  102. Sheesh, even the new Ice Age movie has more “inappropriate” jokes than that!

  103. do you know the difference betwen a stalagmite and a stalactite? (both are rock growths in caves – one is growing from the floor, the other from the ceiling .

    i still remember what our science teacher told us (it was a boys only class and we were about 14 or 15 years old )

    “listen carefully – stalactits hang .. ”

    .. pause ..

    laughter

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